Forgiveness of Sins

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The Crucifixion - by GRÜNEWALD, Matthias - from Musée d'Unterlinden, Colmar
(Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do!)


"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ ... In Him we have Redemption through His Blood, the Forgiveness of our Trespasses, according to the Riches of His Grace" (Ephesians 1:3, 1:7).


Forgiveness of Sins

from various sources

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"All Authority", said Christ to His Apostles, "in Heaven and on Earth, has been given to Me" (Matthew 28:18). Included in this was the Power to Forgive Sins. The following Incident in the Gospels, Testifies-to paralytic_roof.jpg (669657 bytes) Christ's Power to Forgive Sins:

"When Jesus saw their Faith, he said to the Paralytic, 'Take Heart, son; your Sins are Forgiven'. Then some of the Scribes said to themselves, 'This Man is Blaspheming'. But Jesus, Perceiving their Thoughts, said, 'Why do you think Evil in your Hearts? For which is easier, to say, Your Sins are Forgiven, or to say, Stand up and Walk? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has Authority on Earth to Forgive Sins' — He then said to the Paralytic — 'Stand up, take your Bed and go to your Home'. And he stood up and went to his Home" (Matthew 9:2-7).


 It was this same Spiritual Power to Forgive Sins that Our Lord communicated-to His Apostles, and their Successors, after His Resurrection:

"As the Father has sent Me, so I send you ... Receive the Holy Spirit. If you Forgive the Sins of any, they are Forgiven them; if you Retain the Sins of any, they are Retained" (John 20:21-23).

In this Verse, we see that Christ bestowed-upon His Apostles the following:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Mission - ("As the Father has sent Me, so I send you …")

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Power - ("Receive the Holy Spirit"), and

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Discretion - Whether or not to Exercise this Power ("If you Forgive …; if you Retain").

This Verse cannot be explained-away by claiming that the Apostles were simply Authorized to Go-out and Preach Forgiveness, according to the following Injunction: "that Repentance and Forgiveness of Sins should be Preached in His Name, to all Nations" (Luke 24:47). If such were the case, John 20:21-23 would be utterly Devoid of Purpose.

The Power to Forgive Sins was the First Charism, Christ bestowed-upon the Apostles, after His Resurrection. In claiming that Her Priests have the Power to Forgive Sins, the Catholic Church is Criticized and Accused of carrying out a Function that is Proper-to God alone. It is the same Accusation, Christ Himself had to endure: "This Man is Blaspheming" (Matthew 9:3). Yet, Christ established the Church to continue His Work of Salvation in the World, after His Ascension into Heaven. Whatever Christ, as Head, possesses by-way-of Power and Authority, is Properly Possessed by His Body also, that is, the Church. In Forgiving Sins, Priests and Bishops act as Christ's Ministers and Instruments; the fact that they may be Sinners themselves, does not Inhibit the Exercise or Effectiveness of this Power.

The Main Ways, by which the Power to Forgive Sins is Exercised in the Church, are through the Sacraments of Baptism and Penance. It is through Baptism, that the Merits of Christ's Redemption are Applied-to us for the Remission of Original Sin, Inherited-from Adam: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless One is Born of Water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Penance, Forgives all Actual Sin, committed after Baptism.

Actual Sin can be either 'Venial' or 'Mortal'. Venial Sin is a Transgression of the Law of God in a Slight Matter, or in a Grave Matter, when, at the time, either our Understanding does not Wholly Comprehend the Full Gravity of the Evil Presented-to it, or there is Wanting, Full Consent of the Will. Mortal Sin is a Grievous Offense that brings Death to the Soul, and Loss of God's Friendship. For Mortal Sin to be Committed, there must be:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Grave Matter;

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Full Knowledge of the Gravity of the Act being Committed;

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Full Consent of the Will, to the Commission of the Act.

There are some who claim that the Distinction made by the Church between Venial and Mortal Sin is Artificial, and that all Sin is equally Bad ("Sin is Sin"). The difference in Degrees of Sin is clearly indicated by the following Verses:

"Why do you see the Speck in your Neighbor's Eye, but do not notice the Log in Your Own Eye?" (Matthew 7:3);

" … therefore he who delivered Me to you has the Greater Sin" (John 19:11); finally,

"If any one sees his Brother committing what is not a Mortal Sin, he will ask, and God will give him Life, for those whose Sin is not Mortal. There is Sin which is Mortal; I do not say that One is to Pray for that. All Wrongdoing is Sin, but there is Sin which is not Mortal" (1John 5:16-17).


The Fathers on Forgiveness:

Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Philadelphians 8, 1 (C. 110 AD):

"The Lord, however, Forgives all who Repent, if their Repentance leads to the Unity of God and to the Council of the Bishop. I have Faith in the Grace of Jesus Christ; and He will Remove from you, every Chain".

Firmilian of Caesarea, Letter to Cyprian 75, 16 (C. 268 AD):

"'Receive the Holy Spirit: if you Forgive any Man his Sins, they shall be Forgiven; and if you Retain any Man's Sins, they shall be Retained'. Therefore, the Power of Forgiving Sins was given to the Apostles, and to the Churches which these men, sent by Christ, Established; and to the Bishops who Succeeded them, by being Ordained in their place".

Lactantius, The Divine Institutions 4, 30, 1 (Inter 304-310 AD):

" ... let it be known: that is the True Church, in which there is Confession and Penance, and which takes a Salubrious Care of the Sins and Wounds to which the Weak Flesh is Subject".

Saint Hilary of Poitiers, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew 18, 8 (C. 353-355 AD):

"In our Present Condition, we are all Subdued by the Terror of that Greatest Dread. And now, out in front of that Terror, He sets the Irrevocable Apostolic Judgment, however severe, so that those whom they shall Bind on Earth, that is, whomsoever they leave Bound in the Knots of their Sins; and those whom they Loose, which is to say, those who by their Confession, receive Grace unto Salvation: — these, in accord with the Apostolic Sentence, are Bound or Loosed also in Heaven".

Saint Pacian of Barcelona, Letters to Sympronian 1, 6 (Inter 375-392 AD):

"God never Threatens the Repentant, rather He Pardons the Penitent. You will say that it is God alone Who can do this. True enough, but it is likewise True that He does it through His Priests, who Exercise His Power".


Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566):

Part I, Chapter XI: "As, therefore, He became Man, in order to Bestow on Man this Forgiveness of Sins, He Communicated this Power to Bishops and Priests in the Church, previous to His Ascension into Heaven, where He sits Forever at the Right Hand of God. Christ, however, as we have already said, Remits Sin by Virtue of His Own Authority; all others, by Virtue of His Authority delegated to them as His Ministers".

Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992):

No. 976:"The Apostle's Creed associates Faith in the Forgiveness of Sins, not only with Faith in the Holy Spirit, but also with Faith in the Church, and in the Communion of Saints. It was when He gave the Holy Spirit to His Apostles, that the Risen Christ conferred on them His Own Divine Power to Forgive Sins: 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you Forgive the Sins of any, they are Forgiven; if you Retain the Sins of any, they are Retained'".

No. 981: "After His Resurrection, Christ sent His Apostles 'so that Repentance and Forgiveness of Sins should be Preached in His Name to all Nations'. The Apostles and their Successors, carry out this Ministry of Reconciliation, not only by Announcing to Men, God's Forgiveness, Merited for us by Christ, and calling them to Conversion and Faith; but also by Communicating to them the Forgiveness of Sins in Baptism, and Reconciling them with God and with the Church through the Power of the Keys, received from Christ":

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) "[The Church] has received the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, so that in Her, Sins may be Forgiven through Christ's Blood and the Holy Spirit's Action. In this Church, the Soul, Dead through Sin, comes back to Life in order to Live with Christ, whose Grace has Saved us (Saint Augustine, Sermon 214,11)".

No. 982: "There is no Offense, however Serious, that the Church cannot Forgive. 'There is no one, however Wicked and Guilty, who may not Confidently Hope for Forgiveness, provided his Repentance is Honest'. Christ Who Died for all Men, desires that in His Church, the Gates of Forgiveness should always be Open, to anyone who turns away from Sin"